The development and execution of IT strategies has certain unique challenges for non-profit organizations. Getting executive and/or board buy-in to invest in IT development, communicating IT strategies to people without technology backgrounds, and budgeting for IT investments while maintaining fiscal responsibility are frequently hurdles to overcome. When working with a conservative budget, there is a temptation to engage in a reactive IT strategy, fixing things when broken rather than looking for ways to manage problems before they occur. However, by considering the following strategies, your non-profit can make the move to a proactive approach to IT that helps achieve your organization’s overall objectives.
Consider short- and long-term objectives
Investing in technology is complex and will have implications throughout your organization. When considering an investment, be clear about whether it is aimed at alleviating the problems of today or providing greater opportunities for your organization down the road. Additionally, prioritize the implementation of the new or updated technology across different areas of your organization. This allows you to maintain greater control over day-to-day operations while changes are made.
Manage current as well as new technology
Define a role in your organization for a point person to oversee technology. Whether you have an in-house IT department, or you outsource IT, having a primary point of contact helps streamline resolution of technology issues. Be proactive and organized when it comes to vendor contracts and necessary upgrades so that you are not taken by surprise at growing inefficiencies. Achieve a more effective prioritization and investment by defining a contact to act as the conduit for organizing IT needs, issues, complaints, ongoing maintenance, and centralized upgrades.
Be intentional when implementing new technology
It is tempting to invest in the latest technology, but it is important to take a comprehensive look at what solutions will be most beneficial to your organization.
- Business Solutions – Solutions for managing data, programs, volunteers, donors, and fiscal systems are readily available and can sometimes be inexpensive for non-profit organizations but implementing too much new technology at one time can pose unexpected problems. Start by aligning business goals with new solutions as well as looking for inefficiencies in business processes and prioritize your efforts to make the most of your investment of time and money.
- Implementation Approach - When implementing new technology, make sure you take the time to create and review an action plan with management. You should consider the best plan for the organization to ensure minimal down time and give ample time for smooth adoption. One possible way to approach new technology is to tier the rollout to your organization. Prioritizing and then staggering the implementations of the new or updated technology across different areas of the organization will allow you to maintain greater control over day-to-day operations while changes are made and ensure that you can address issues as they arise.
- Infrastructure/Hardware - Just as there are many solutions for managing different aspects of your organization, choices exist for how you design and manage the infrastructure you use for day-to-day activities. Consider the needs of your staff and established workflows when planning for infrastructure and hardware changes. Establish policies that will be used to guide upgrades and safe use. You may want to consider implementing cloud solutions which can directly address security, backup/recovery, collaboration, upgrades, and maintenance concerns. Improved flexibility in the work environment can be accomplished by increasing mobile connectivity allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely and potentially off hours. As you deepen your cloud or mobile presence, be sure these initiatives are part of the overall plan and budget.
- Evaluate Effectiveness – Your overall plan should include an evaluation of effectiveness of your technology investments after implementation. At the outset of any project, clearly identify the desired outcome. For example, before adopting a new customer or donor database determine benchmarks from your users, requirements, and processes to evaluate how effective the new technology will be. After the implementation is complete and the technology has been up and running for a time, evaluate the effectiveness by comparing the desired benchmarks to existing outcomes. By instituting measures to evaluate new technology, your organization can be confident that the implementation was successful. In addition, if results are not as expected, modifications can be made to achieve the desired outcome.
Provide training alongside new or upgraded technology
Prepare staff before, during, and after the implementation. Evaluate current skillsets and define what employees need to know about the new systems. Provide effective training programs and take advantage of webinars and online tutorials to educate staff on new functionality and enhance existing skills. A tiered strategy for training staff can be effective when different skill levels are defined including; required, need to know, and nice to know. Some implementations might also require in house training which can be accomplished through courses designed to ensure that staff receive a streamlined, customized learning experience.
Take advantage of the data you are collecting
Non-profit organizations typically collect data on a wide array of information including donors, volunteers, clients, and programs. If you have a data collection solution in place, it is a good idea to review your results and look at ways that you can complete at least some level of analysis against your data. Analytics tools can be useful for measuring the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns, new programs or services, impact of existing services, outcomes, etc.
Your data collection and analytics efforts should focus on your business goals and programming commitments. This should facilitate building more robust datasets and then leverage your analytics tools to support reporting and trend tracking, etc. For example, you can use data to build a focused marketing plan to target donors or to organize applications for available grants to potential sponsors.
Leverage technology for online engagement
Social Media outreach is key for non-profits to maintain competitiveness in a world of internet communication. Exposure, client outreach, and volunteer recruitment are all enhanced by having your organization on social media. Neglecting these efforts can result in the loss of both of potential revenue and staff to other organizations. In addition to presenting information about your organization, you can highlight client stories, acknowledge sponsors, and host electronic applications for volunteers or staff on your social media platforms.
Develop a strategy for your online presence that focuses on attaining specific goals through your website and social media. A strategy can include a marketing plan for targeting a specific group (such as donors, volunteers, or clients), and specific staffing assignments to oversee the implementation and evaluation of the strategy. Another important component of your strategy is ensuring that you have the means to collect and document your data such as a customer relational database (CRM) which can manage your volunteers, revenue, donors/clients, and sponsors.
Email marketing and social media channels can also be used to drive website traffic, increase brand recognition, and help connect with existing donors and clients to build a network and increase visibility.
How Ninestone Can Help
Ninestone can assist with identifying your organization’s needs and developing a strategy to improve your IT landscape. Whether it is looking for ways to get more from software solutions or organizing and managing your IT landscape to improve efficiency, we can help. Ninestone has proven experience working closely with non-profit organizations to assess their IT and develop proactive strategies to leverage technology for success while staying on budget.
The Ninestone Team